Airlifted palm-sized baby ready to go home

India accounts for 24% of preterm births globally, and most can be saved.

Written by Pritha Chatterjee | New Delhi | Published: November 17, 2014 8:40 am
The 44-week child now weighs a normal 2.6 kg; (left) being brought to Delhi at 26 weeks. The 44-week child now weighs a normal 2.6 kg; (left) being brought to Delhi at 26 weeks.

A preterm baby, who was airlifted from Lucknow barely hours after birth, is ready to go home after spending four months at a hospital here.

Palm-sized and weighing just 600 gm at birth, the baby was born at 26 weeks, over 10 weeks before a full-term pregnancy of 37-39 weeks.

Now, her mother is able to lift her in her arms. Weighing over 2.6 kg, normal for her age of 44 weeks, the baby (yet to be named) is likely to be discharged next week.

“For a week after birth, I could not even see her. I just heard that she was the size of my palm,” her mother, Priyanka Awasthi, said. “When I saw her seven days after birth in the NICU (neonatal intensive-care unit), she was shivering. I could not believe how weak she was. I was not even allowed to hold her. It’s a blessing looking at her, gurgling happily today.”

A mini newborn ICU was set up in the aircraft with an onboard incubator, ventilator and monitoring system to transport the baby to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, where she was treated.

“Like most preterm babies, there were several complications as most of her organs were underdeveloped. Airlifting a preterm baby and such a tiny one at that has still more complications because of the low air pressure and minimal space to manoeuvre, so we had to be prepared,” Dr Neelam Kler, chairperson of the hospital’s Department of Neonatology, said.

Dr Anup Thakur, consultant neonatologist, said, “We had our own fears whether such a tiny baby would be able to sustain the flight physiology of cabin pressure, noise, vibration, low temperature, sudden accelerations and decelerations… Also, risk of brain haemorrhage in such tiny infants during transport has been reported.”

Doctors said the baby fought an array of complications “like a warrior”. Her lungs were not developed fully. She developed chronic lung disease and required oxygen support for almost 17 weeks.

She was also diagnosed with Patent Ductus Arteriosus, a heart disorder, and had sepsis at the time of admission.

The baby’s intestines were immature, so she could not be given oral feeds. “She was fed small amounts of breast milk with a feeding tube and was put on intravenous nutrition. Premature babies also forget to breathe sometimes, a condition called apnea,” Dr Kler said.

India accounts for 23.6 per cent of preterm births globally, the highest in the world. November 17 is observed as World Premature Babies Day.

Experts say 75 per cent of premature births in India can be saved with simple, cost-effective interventions, like providing good ante-natal care and monitoring of maternal health.

Doctors said after they gain a healthy weight, like Awasthi’s baby, they have to be periodically monitored but have normal healthy lives.

For now, as the Awasthis prepare to take their baby home, they are getting used to new “normal” worries. “We still have not thought of a name for her. Now, there are so many suggestions… and I am happy dwelling over names now for my baby,” Awasthi said.

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